The average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day, and this consumer behavior pattern typically continues while travelers are on vacation throughout the U.S. and around the globe. All of this garbage (and the resources that went into producing items that are so easily tossed aside) adds up quickly, negatively affecting wildlife and wild places worldwide. About 8.8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year, the equivalent of a garbage truck dumping a full load of trash into the ocean every minute, harming wildlife and impacting important fisheries.

Given the rapidly increasing number of travelers around the world, it is critically important that the tourism industry takes steps to mitigate its impact on the planet by taking steps to address the ubiquitous yet often overlooked issue of waste management. That’s why Natural Habitat Adventures and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are tackling trash head on by spearheading the World’s First Zero Waste Adventure.

World's First Zero Waste Adventure

© J West

This groundbreaking endeavor is intended to set a new standard for the tourism industry by proving that it is possible to operate a zero waste adventure, motivating other travel companies to improve their own waste management practices and further reduce their collective environmental impacts. The ultimate goal is to help make the operations of Natural Habitat and the broader travel industry more sustainable, which will support the protection the earth’s precious natural resources and the species that depend on them.

Furthermore, the initiative aims to educate and inspire travelers to make more conscious choices about waste in their everyday lives. Showing travelers practical strategies for reducing waste while they are on vacation creates an enduring ripple effect, with these lessons carrying over to people’s waste generation habits at home and at work.

Together, we can all contribute to a healthier planet by being more mindful about the trash we produce, and by doing so, we can create a world in which both humans and wild animals thrive.

How Will the Zero Waste Adventure Work?

So, what will the World’s First Zero Waste Adventure look like on the ground?

“Zero waste” will encompass all guest-related activities that Nat Hab manages and sponsors throughout the trip—from the moment a guest books through the airport transfer on the final day. Booked travelers will commit to conservation before the trip even begins, opting to only receive digital versions of all pretrip materials.

The 14 ecotourists will then do their part to help divert (refuse, recycle, compost, upcycle, or re-use) 99 percent or more of all waste produced as part of Nat Hab-sponsored trip operations on the July 6-12, 2019 departure of Safari America: Yellowstone Country. By the end of the trip, all of the waste that cannot be diverted should fit into a single small container, almost eliminating the need to send any materials to a landfill or incinerator.

This does not include waste that involves personal hygiene items, poses safety risks, is legally required to be sent to a landfill or incinerator, or results from guest actions outside of Natural Habitat’s control (pre-trip, en route, items of a personal nature, etc.). Where waste is created as a part of a partner provider’s service (such as third-party hotels), Nat Hab will be encouraging its travelers to avoid that waste by providing alternative options.

North American Safari Truck in Yellowstone

During the trip, Natural Habitat’s expedition leaders will encourage the 14 travelers to refuse potential waste whenever possible, such as declining disposable straws or individually packaged condiments, to minimize the waste that the group produces while in vehicles, lodges and safari camps throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Some of the strategies to limit trash include:

  • Traveling with containers for composting and recycling (including hard-to-recycle items);
  • Providing travelers with a zero waste toolkit with personal reusable items such as water bottles, mugs, cutlery and tote bags;
  • Transporting packed meals in reusable containers;
  • Composting napkins and biodegradable food waste; and
  • Buying food in bulk.

Glamping in Yellowstone

By dramatically reducing the waste generated on this specific trip departure, Natural Habitat Adventures will learn valuable lessons that the company can then apply across its other nature adventures worldwide. The first zero waste adventure in July 2019 will be a catalyst for incremental changes that will gradually result in significant waste reduction across all Natural Habitat trips.

The World’s First Zero Waste Adventure is supported by WWF, which has a team of experts and scientists dedicated to researching and reducing food waste across multiple sectors of the economy, including hospitality, retail grocery, restaurants, specialty crop agriculture, and within grade schools. One of these experts, Manager Monica McBride, accompanied a July 2018 Safari America: Yellowstone Country adventure to assess the current situation and help Nat Hab develop a plan for successfully minimizing waste throughout the journey. WWF is excited to see the results of this pilot effort and to use the findings to develop additional guest-facing materials that can be used across their existing project portfolio.

Glamp in Yellowstone